Can you guess which field of expertise the major group of Australians of the Year come from?
It should be no surprise, given Australia’s almost biblical love of all things sport, that it is indeed this realm from where the greatest number of winners come.
Sport, including cricket, athletics, football, sailing, boxing, swimming and tennis account for 14 past winners since the awards began in 1960.
Criticism of this number peaked in 2004 after Steve Waugh was the fourth sporting winner in seven years and the third Test Cricket Captain to be named.
Even Waugh himself seemed to want to recognise the unsung heroes of Australia when he said in 2004: "I suppose, because I am a sportsman and travel all over Australia, I see every day Australians doing small and large and often unnoticed deeds; many times I thought how nice it would be for them to be recognised, so I hope somehow that in receiving this honour that I represent these people.”
"One hundred and eighty-two years ago one of my mob would have been a dead cert’ for this."Lionel Rose
Over the years people have questioned if the awards have adequately recognised other fields of endeavour. There have been 13 winners from the sciences (including 10 from the medical profession) and 11 from entertainment/arts so really sports aren’t so far out in front.
Possibly a more important issue to consider than the relative balance between sport, science and the arts is the number of women who have been named Australian of the Year. Women have been hugely underrepresented in the awards with only one in five winners female. Or to put it another way only 11 women winners compared to 46 men.
The 2015 Australian of the Year awards produced a rather remarkable result for the women of Australia. For the first time since all four categories were created, women took out the top honours in each, signalling perhaps the beginning of an era of greater balance between the sexes.
In 1960 the awards first winner, Sir Macfarlane Burnet, was incorrectly referred to as the ‘Man of the Year’; a mistake quickly rectified in 1961 when Joan Sutherland took out the award.
In 1977 the choice of winner also seemed to reflect a change in attitude when Dame Raigh Roe, was recognised specifically as a leader of the community based women’s advocacy organisation the Country Women’s Association (CWA). This choice of Roe as the Australian of the Year seems to be the selection committee’s first attempt at promoting the status of women in Australia.
International achievement remained a key ingredient for success during the awards first decade with many recipients having a presence on the world stage.
In 1968 boxer Lionel Rose became the first indigenous Australian of the Year. Rose epitomised what the award hoped to capture; the great contribution of an Australian sportsman on the world stage.
Of the award Rose quipped: ‘One hundred and eighty-two years ago one of my mob would have been a dead cert’ for this.’
Since Rose another eight indigenous Australians have won the award in the fields of music, politics, law, public service, academia and sport including Evonne Goolagong in 1971 and Adam Goodes in 2014.
By the 1980s the awards, now with the backing of the Federal Government, shifted towards a more commercial focus.
Mainstream Australia was invited to get excited about Australia Day and the naming of the Australian of the year. This era saw winners who were designed to attract public attention such as actor/comedian Paul Hogan and singer John Farnham.
Marathon runner Robert de Castella and cricketer Allan Border were popular choices for the award but prompted concern to be expressed by The Sydney Morning Herald who wrote: “'One worrying trend with the award is its attachment to ratings. This year's candidates appear to have been people who held high public profiles.”
Despite this trend or perhaps because of it the steadily rising number of nominations proved the award was capturing the public imagination.
If the mid-1980s showed a shift towards high profile winners, the 1990s reflected political issues such as republicanism, reconciliation and multiculturalism.
A winner that universally pleases all Australians remains an ideal we continue to strive towards however over the years the choices made have generally remained sound.
Arguably the one exception to this was the announcement in 1978 of Alan Bond as the Australian of the Year which, in hindsight, has become the major blemish of the awards.
Bond was made Australian of the Year prior to Australia II winning the America’s Cup but after he had bankrolled a second challenge in 1977.
Bond and his syndicate eventually won the cup at its fourth attempt. As has been well documented since, Bond went on to a subsequent fall from grace that was both turbulent and controversial.
The business and legal problems encountered by Bond eventuated with him serving time in prison for fraud.
To make your nomination go to Australian of the Year awards now.
Nominations close on August 3.
Fairfax Media is a partner of the 2016 Australian of the Year awards.